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Painting a Picture of the Future – Capturing your Audience’s Attention

You know the old saying that ‘without prophetic vision the people perish (or cast off restraint) Prov. 29:18’ . What this means is that without some kind of God-infused future hope, or word to look towards, most normal people get a bit lost in the daily grind.  With the busy-ness of life and constant stresses, it can be hard to see beyond your own context, challenges, worries or responsibilities.

One of the roles of leadership is to paint (prophetic?) pictures on people’s imaginations regarding a possible future that could unfold.  A picture that offers hope and inspires you to keep persevering and to not give up.

A good orator-leader can use words to inspire people to do almost anything.  Especially if the world around them is bleak and they are looking for hope.  This can be, and has been manipulated over the years by leaders hungry for domination.  Some visions can use people to achieve personal gain and any controlling regime throughout history will show you that.  It can happen in the church too, more nuanced perhaps, but Christians can also feel used and manipulated to do things, join in and never question the leader etc.  I don’t want to focus on that right now as I am sure it will be covered elsewhere.  Never the less it is important to point out that it is a potential area for abuse.

Here is a different take on how you can capture an audience’s attention however.  It can also be an invitation for them to join in on a process so that ownership and true buy in is achieved.  

To capture some, one’s attention with future orientated word pictures is to engage the imagination.  You are inviting them to ‘see’ what you are describing with their own minds eye. The sentence may start with ‘What if……. or…. Imagine a world……’ Descriptive language is crucial here and it is an art form that doesn’t come easily.  In the realm of theatre and story telling, an actor or actresses goal is for the audience to see the story playing itself out in visual detail on their imaginary neocortex.  If the audience begins to see it for themselves then the picture will stick in their minds and continue to gain momentum well after you have finished.

It often begins with a problem.  Either there is no hope in the future due to current circumstances, or there is no clear vision for a group of people to move towards together.  Everything is shrinking away and hope may be gone.  By inviting such a group to consider ‘what if?’ You are suggesting an alternate future that doesn’t yet exist.  The bible refers to this in Hebrews in saying that (Abraham), in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told.  Romans 4:17-18 ESV

A good leader will invite their people into a process to co-dream with God and with each other.  I have always found that even though I might have a certain vision that I would like to move towards, the synergistic combination of other peoples (God planted) dreams and desires can build a more beautiful, multi-layered future full of different components and each coming together to build the whole. Prayerful dream-scaping should therefore be a communal process.  It is not just about one leader imposing their will on a community. Rather the leader using their oratory skills to weave others into the creative process of vision development. Prayer follows this, or maybe accompanies the process, so that a community can discern together which things the Lord is highlighting and which things should be parked for now.  What is God saying in this moment? How does He see the future?……..Is this in line with God’s already established mission? 

But there is also an apostolic component to this process. The leader needs to somehow bring all of this together into a coherent and integrated identity……and then articulate it.  The big challenge is to help a group agree together that this is the right vision, right direction, or the right course of action no matter what the cost.  Leaders can then bring faith language into the moment.  ‘This can happen.’  ‘The future is not set, and with God in our midst, anything is possible.’  ‘We can do this.’ 

This isn’t manipulation by the way, especially if the vision process has been integrated, prayerful and inclusive.  

Inserting faith and hope words here make all the difference.  This is possibly where leadership teams are so crucial because leaders also need to develop the right steps to move towards such a vision.  A strategy if you like, a road map for others to follow so that they all know what needs to happen tomorrow or next month with all the logistics that will be needed.  Not all leaders have this gifting which is why team is so important.  If you can find a leader that can paint a picture with words and describe the steps it can be a beautiful thing.

To effectively capture, and keep an audience, a leader will need to employ different communication techniques.  Painting a picture with words can be strengthened if one backs it up with visual imagery, metaphors and symbols that keep people on track.  Obviously, this is first done with some written vision statements and bullet points that remind everyone of the steps.  But the imagination needs more than that to be fed and sustained for the long journey ahead.  It might be in the form of pictures, installation art, stories, biblical imagery that re enforce the vision, music, prayer walls.  Even imagery such as organic matter that can be planted in the ground like flower bulbs that slowly unfold or certain trees. The list is endless.  All of these things serve as reminders of what we have already corporately heard from the Lord and decided together in terms of direction.  The leader then serves as a communication conduit for keeping people to what they have already agreed upon together.

Why is this so important?  Simply put, humans tend to forget things rather quickly!  I used to think I had done a good job by inviting buy-in and painting an amazing picture on my audiences’ imaginations. Only to find that a month later most of them had forgotten and fresh grumbling had begun again.  Remember Moses (and God) experienced this in the desert in the Exodus.  Often the journey is never an easy one moving from A, to hope-filled B.  The temptation to want to return to where we used to be (Egypt) can be strong.  The going can be hard and it would be easier to go back to the old (slavery) days when life was simpler.  

So fresh reminders are needed.  Fresh metaphors.  New ways of describing a hopeful and life filled future.  And perhaps frustratingly, these reminders need to happen on a regular basis so that your audience stay with you and keep persevering together. 

Jesus did this in various ways when describing the unfolding, future orientated Kingdom of God.  It wasn’t fully ‘there’ yet but Jesus employed creative language to capture the Jewish imagination to help them see it.  ‘The Kingdom of God is like a fisherman’…….’It is like a pearl in a field’……’The Kingdom is like a wedding’……. Jesus kept approaching the same vision but from various directions and perspectives.  Slowly his audience gained the ‘ahh – haa’ moments of revelation and their faith was thus refueled.   

Capturing an audience’s attention with a vision that breeds hope and life takes time, creativity and commitment.  It is oratory artistry, and some people can do it naturally while others need to work more at crafting their words and techniques.  Regardless, we need these types of people in today’s world.  Alongside the bible, the body of Christ needs constant reminders of a hope filled Kingdom that is unfolding.  A Kingdom that will continue to unfold if we would just keep walking alongside it with faith filled vision for tomorrow.

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